By Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) - A quiet woman wearing a flowing, black dress and mysteriously strolling along busy highways in parts of the U.S. Southeast and Midwest has the curious wondering who she is and spurred a social media site to document her trek.
She has been dubbed the "Woman in Black," by TV stations, police and followers on the Web, including those on a Facebook page where she has been tracked on a nearly 500-mile journey with a black bag and walking stick in hand that has taken her from Ranger, Georgia, to Athens, Ohio, since July 18.
"If you meet this woman, please, offer her a drink, a meal, whatever it may be you feel she needs. Be hospitable. Be kind," said a post on the Facebook page, which has 19,000 followers.
Several television stations have covered the "Woman in Black" when she has passed through, reporting that some believe the woman, who rarely speaks, is on a religious mission.
An NBC affiliate in Sullivan County, Tennessee, reported she told deputies there that she is from an Islamic nation and worked at the Pentagon. Deputies later said neither was true.
Raymond Poles told Reuters he is the woman's brother, identifying her as Elizabeth Poles, 56, a U.S. Army veteran, mother of two children and a widow from Motts, Alabama.
Elizabeth Poles had been receiving treatment at Veterans Affairs hospitals to deal with the deaths of her husband in 2008 and her father in 2009, he said.
"Her and my dad were really close," he said.
Poles spent time in a VA hospital in North Carolina before moving near her brother in Phenix City, Alabama, about four years ago to be close to her family.
For the first three months, Poles was "doing great," going to church on Sundays and to her regular appointments at the nearby VA hospital, he said.
"She got to where she started walking from the (hospital) about a mile away," he said. "She then started just popping up at my house and then one night she came over and just started cursing."
Poles recalled one Sunday when his sister shaved her head and refused to go to church. Since then, Elizabeth has vanished for months at a time. Poles said his sister is a loving, kind-hearted woman.
"I wish she would come back and let us help her," he said.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Eric Beech)